Saturday, 5 January 2013

Falconry in Saudi Arabia


A falconry display in the Saudi Arabian desert on a beautiful, cloudless, blue sky day attracted a large contingent of expats.  The trip was organised by the American Community in Riyadh (ACRSA or, more commonly known as ACR).

As our group congregated at the meeting point in town, the local constabulary began circling about nervously in their cars.  Large gatherings of any description tend to by eyed suspiciously in the Magic Kingdom.  We were requested to move on ASAP.  Fortunately, our Saudi guide and falcon expert arrived to settle the nerves of all parties before we followed him, convoy fashion, out of town.  (A word of warning to more sedate drivers - Saudi's do not drive slowly, so when joining a Saudi convoy be prepared to flat foot it to keep up!).

We didn't have far to go.
A few kilometers from the edge of Riyadh we left the tarmac and bounced our way across flat, barren had desert to a spot our guide considered perfect for a falcon display.    Anticipation was in the air as we visitors left our vehicles and began milling about.

Eventually, some local chaps  rolled up in their desert vehicles and began laying out Arabian carpets, lighting a fire and setting large kettles of water to boil on the flames.  A fold up table was dragged from the back of a ute and  huge dishes of local cuisine were set out across it.  We hadn't expected to be fed at this shindig so had bought our own food, but a good Kiwi does not turn their nose up at hospitality - so we ate and drank qahwah, and watched as a number of hunting birds were carried from the vehicles to perches pushed into the desert sand.


After we had been sufficiently fed and watered it was time to take photo's of the hooded birds waiting patiently in the shade provided by parked 4WD's.   Our host called us all around for a talk on what is now considered the sport of falconry, though in the past the use of falcons to supplement a sparse desert diet was considered more essential than sport.

Our falconry host surrounded by paparazzi
We were told that the best raptors for hunting are wild falcons, caught when they are a couple of years old  to ensure they have naturally honed hunting skills.  Training a falcon takes time and patience and if you want more information on exactly how that is done head over to Arab Hunter for their take on falcon training.

With the talk over it was time to see the birds, and their masters, in action.  This required live bait.  If you visit the Pet Souq in Riyadh you will find pigeons for sale.  Pigeons are eaten in Saudi - by people, (take a look at my post on Eating Pigeon For Lunch) and by falcons.

Falcon Food
A couple of parents were a little shocked with the use of live birds for our entertainment and wondered where to hide the children.  The children received a rapid education on the cycle of life as it pertains to birds of prey that sounded something like this - falcons are hunters; birds will be chased and aerially attacked; such is life.


Whilst perched on the arm of their trainers, with talons gripped around a thick, protective leather glove, the falcons look beautiful.  Once the falcon's hood is removed they easily spot the movement of a bird in the distance and take flight with only one thought in mind.  They gather speed quickly, rising into the air above their prey, altering course as the bird locked into their radar attempts to escape, before diving in to attack.  Escape is futile. Usually.

Actually, on this day, a couple of pigeons did escape.
Who knew they had brains?
Instead of flying off into the empty blue yonder which, lets face, is certain death for a pigeon with a bird of prey on its rear, they flew straight under the utes and wouldn't come out to play.  The pigeon that did high tail it over the horizon wasn't supposed to get that far and a 4WD had to give chase to collect the released predator before it ate it's downed victim and flew off into the wild blue yonder, never to return.

Because the pigeons were not all co-operating by flying into the bright blue sky, and there was insufficient wind to lift a kite into the air with freshly slain meaty treats attached to the line,  it was decided to swing a lure around so we could see the birds more closely.  There would be photos of this activity but my skill with the point and shoot camera doesn't extend to capturing falcons diving at speed, so I'll leave that to your imagination.

But, here's a couple of other pics from our day.

Pots on the fire

Waiting for some action

The folks at ACR should be able to put you in touch with our Falconing guide if you think you have falconing in the blood, so pop over to their website,, and drop them a line.

Hubster loves Falcons, a couple of sculpted pieces are included in the decor in our flat and he is forever on the look out for more.  I swear, if he lives alone in his older years his home will one of those that will freak out any visiting youngsters because of the garish pieces of birds of prey hanging from every vantage point!   Today, he was totally chuffed we had a chance to watch Falconry in Saudi Arabia.

Ka Kite,

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